A KEY cancer waiting-time target was missed again in the first three months of this year, but the figures showed improvement.

According to official NHS statistics, 84.7% of patients referred to hospitals between January and March began cancer treatment within 62 days. That was up from 83.7% in the last three months of 2019 and 81.4% in the first three months of 2019, but the Scottish Government’s target is 95%.

Meanwhile, the figures showed almost one-quarter of women referred for treatment after cervical screening waited longer than the 62-day target. Smear tests and other cancer screening programmes were paused on March 30 due to the coronavirus, with cervical cancer screening resuming this week. Before that, the proportion of women treated within two months had fallen, to 77.8% from 86.4% in the period October to December 2019.

Across Scotland, just two health boards met the target of treating 95% of patients referred with an urgent suspicion of cancer within the target time – NHS Lanarkshire (96.9%) and NHS Borders (95.2%).

Another cancer waiting-time target was met, with 96.1% of patients starting treatment within 31 days of a decision on how to treat their disease.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “These are particularly difficult times and we understand that patients undergoing treatment for cancer will feel especially anxious.

“It is positive that the 31-day standard continued to be met and we progressed towards meeting 62-day standard across Scotland in the period leading up to lockdown despite the extra pressures on our NHS. I want to thank all the hospital staff who, through their hard work and dedication, made this possible.

“It should be noted that this data does not take into account the impact Covid-19 has had on the 31 and 62-day standards.”

Freeman said the majority of cancer treatments continued during the virus crisis but some treatment plans had been changed to “minimise patients’ individual risk”.